6 steps to recycling plastics and why it is so important | MikaCycle
Plastic recycling: How is plastic recycled step by step
How does the plastic recycling process work? The general plastic recycling process involves the collecting, sorting, washing, shredding, melting, and pelletizing of plastic waste, with some processes varying by plastic resin. Once plastics are collected, they are either sent to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) or a Plastic Recovery Facility (PRF), to sort the plastics by type. Once it has been sorted, it can be washed to remove any contaminants, and it is then shredded to be melted into new plastic pellets. The PET plastic recycling process is the most widely implemented as PET bottle-to-bottle recycling is one of the most prevalent markets. The mismanagement of plastic waste has greatly impacted our environment. However, that does not mean that plastic doesn’t have applications that cannot be easily replaced with other materials. The issue is in product design and irresponsibility when it comes to the disposal and management of plastic waste. Plastic recycling is a complex process that could be improved and increased if more people, businesses, and product designers were aware of what it entails to support it on their end.
Process of recycling plastic
As mentioned, the plastic recycling cycle can vary depending on the resin type, the recycling method, and the new application it is meant for. The recycling method that is used will also vary depending on the end-use application and what the quality requirements may be. For example, the chemical process of recycling plastic is better suited if the material will need to meet virgin-quality requirements. On the other hand, the mechanical process of plastic recycling is best suited for applications that have less strict standards.
Plastic recycling collection
The collection and recycling of plastic waste is highly dependent on proper sorting by individuals and businesses. Plastic waste can be delivered directly to MRFs and PRFs, collected by a local authority, or it can also be collected and delivered through a waste management contractor or through other plastic recycling collection services that can pick it up directly.
Sorting plastics for recycling
Depending on the facility, the sorting technique implemented may vary among manual picking, trommels, OCC screening, ballistic separators, magnet separators, or optic sorting machines among others. Sorting plastics for recycling is important as not every type of plastic can be recycled the same way. The plastic recycling sorting machine in place is often designed specifically for certain types of plastics in their most common forms and cannot process other forms such as plastic bags, for example, as they pose the hazard of jamming the equipment and stalling the entire process.
Cleaning recycled plastic
After sorting has been completed, plastic recycling requires materials be washed in order to remove any adhesives and residual waste. It is important that these materials are left as clean as possible because it affects the quality of the resulting recycled materials. Simply rinsing materials before tossing them in a recycling bin saves a lot of time and effort at these facilities and ensures the recycling process runs more effectively.
Plastic recycling shredding
Once the plastic has been washed, the plastic shredding process begins. It can occur at the same facility where the plastic was sorted and washed, or it can be done by a plastic shredding company. The shredding process of plastic is done to convert the clean material into smaller flakes. Depending on the machinery and industry requirements, different techniques may be use to result in different sized flakes for different shredded plastic uses. Once it has been shredded, it can be melted and extruded into new pellets that are sold to manufacturers from whom you may buy shredded plastic that meets your needs. However, it is not always possible to compound all types, classification, and qualities of plastic at a single facility, so different plastic types are sometimes transferred to other recycling facilities for the shredding process of plastic. Where to sell shredded plastic can depend on the industry and end use but platforms like MikaCycle can reach a more general audience of buyers.
Separation of plastics
The separation of plastics is an essential component of the plastic recycling life cycle because some polymers have different melting points and require specific machinery, therefore different types of plastic can’t simply be recycled together. It is important to know how to separate different types of plastics to ensure that they are sent to the appropriate facility to be recycled and they don’t jam and ruin machinery, and don’t end up in a landfill or the environment. Plastic is tested based on its class and quality to be categorized. They are initially separated based on density, by floating the particles in water. Afterwards, “air classification” is used to determine the thickness of the plastic pieces but placing shredded plastic into a wind tunnel where thinner pieces float while thicker ones remain at the bottom.
Modern recycling largely consists of mechanical or chemical recycling. Depending on the infrastructure available, quality required, and end-use application, one method may be preferred over the other. Chemical recycling can result in virgin-like quality, but it is more expensive, and the technology is much newer but still in the process of being developed and widely implemented. Mechanical recycling has been around for longer especially for the PET plastic recycling process. However, it can result in lower quality recycled materials and requires more extensive sorting of materials beforehand depending on the machinery available. The plastic waste solutions are there and continuously improving, but they still need to be more widely available.
What percent of plastic is recycled?
Of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic that have been produces, unfortunately only 9% has been recycled. Materials like natural HPDE have a recycling rate around 28.7%, like PET plastic recycling, which has a rate of 28.9%. However, other materials like PA, which can account for up to 10% of plastic in the ocean, are more difficult to recycle and fewer facilities accept it but that doesn’t mean it isn’t widely used at the same extent as pet recycled products, for example. Understanding the recycling process is important so that individuals and businesses can do their part in properly sorting and disposing of their plastic waste as to help the entire process run efficiently and increase recycling rates.
How much is recycled plastic?
At the moment, if you want to buy recycled PET, prices can vary widely depending on supply or demand, and they are still generally coupled with oil prices. Some recycled plastics are cheaper as there is not as much demand, or they are easier to recycle in the sense that the appropriate machinery is more widely available. Because the plastic recycling cycle involves so many steps and different types of machinery, it is an expensive material to process. Hopefully as the plastic recycling market continues to grow and technology advances, these expenses will go down. Currently average prices are around $736 for rPET, $696 for rHDPE, $588 for rLDPE, $679 for rPVC, $312 for rABS, and $254 for PS. For more insight on how these prices vary, premium members at MikaCycle can receive a monthly pricing report to see how these change month by month by material and material form in addition to viewing listings for plastic at an affordable price.